Monday, March 23, 2020

Exploring Kowloon's "Magic Rooms" Part 1 | Guest Post

The depiction of Kowloon in Shenmue II is memorable for its sheer scale and size, with a number of high rise buildings soaring up to the sky. Even more remarkably, especially for the time the game was made, is that a great portion of the rabbit-warren of rooms inside the buildings are actually accessible to the player, even if visiting them is not required to advance the game's story.

With Yu Suzuki's typical attention to detail, these extra "filler" rooms were not simply left empty, but were filled with all kinds of dilapidated furniture and various small items that evoke a lived-in feeling.

Long-time Phantom River Stone patron Jcgamer has undertaken a room exploration marathon to screenshot and catalog the wide variety of objects to be found in these Kowloon rooms, and in today's post we present Part One of his findings, which will continue across a number of posts.

Browsing these is sure to give an appreciation for the effort the development team put into crafting realistic-looking rooms that many players may pass by perhaps without even realizing the possibility of glancing inside.
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Monday, March 9, 2020

Submarine at New Yokosuka Harbor | Shenmue One Cut Content

The presence of sailors in the first Shenmue game is an accurate reflection of the influence of the US Navy Base that is located at the harbor in real-life Yokosuka. The warship docked at the far side of the harbor was also modeled on an actual ship that served in Yokosuka, and makes for a memorable sight as Ryo goes about his forklift job.
There was in fact originally going to be another large navy vessel in the game that might have increased this impact, namely: a submarine, which was to have been stationed along the warship.

Its inclusion would have been true to life, as submarines can often be seen around the real Yokosuka harbor.
A submarine at Yokosuka harbor.
The decision to remove it was likely made quite close to the game's final release, as it appeared in promotional footage as late as the release year.
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Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Poll Result: Patrons' Choice Topic for March 2020

Every month Phantom River Stone holds a poll among our patrons to choose a topic for the blog in the coming month. After tallying the votes (including accumulated votes from previous months), the winning topic for March is...

"Ryo Hazuki's jacket: do the patches have any meaning?"

For any player of Shenmue, the patches on Ryo's leather jacket are a familiar sight, especially the Tiger design that constantly faces the player during normal gameplay. In this post we'll look at each of them more closely and investigate whether the designs and symbols are merely for decorative purposes, or whether they may have a deeper meaning.

Coming soon in a future blog post.

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Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Shenmue Passport - Feature Article | 2000 Dreamcast Magazine Translation

We translate an article that was published in the Japanese Dreamcast Magazine back in February 2000, about the Shenmue Passport that came on disc 4 of the set of Shenmue discs. While some of its content (such as music and video clips) could be accessed offline, it also contained many features that took advantage of an internet connection such as global leaderboards and more. This article focused on explaining these network-specific features for the reader.

Note: some images are of reduced quality as they have been extracted from the scanned article. 

-- Start of article ---

Shenmue Passport

Shenmue's world is vast. However, even vaster than that is the world of the Internet. Shenmue Passport is a bridge that connects your Shenmue world to the world of the net. Don't miss the information published on the official site either!

The Internet Makes Shenmue Twice As Fun!

To all Shenmue players who are not connected to the Internet: unfortunately you're missing out! Why? Because 30% of the fun of Shenmue lies within this Passport.

For example, even if you get stuck in the game at night, you can get a hint right away. Or, learn more about the profile of characters that take your interest while playing. Or even see how your mini-game scores compare with users around the country... If you connect to the Internet, all of these things become possible.

Left: By reading in save game data, optimal support can be provided per user.
Right: Data is sent through the Internet so the content is always fresh!
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Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Submit Your Questions for Shenmue 3 Developers

Call For Interview Question Suggestions

Would you like to hear what members of the Shenmue III development team have to say about their work on the game?

Stemming from a proposal in a recent Shenmue Dojo forum thread, I reached out to Deep Silver to see if they could help assist with approval to interview some of the developers that worked on Shenmue III, and to my delight, approval has been received from YS Net.

The developers in question are from Tokyo-based Implausible Industries, of which they are also co-founders, and have a great deal of experience in the game industry. From the company website:
"Before starting Implausible Industries, our members worked on many games of well-known franchises such as Driver, Fatal Frame, FIFA, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon, No More Heroes and Final Fantasy. Our strong experience with Unreal Engine allows us to quickly prototype and efficiently develop top quality games in what we believe to be the best games development toolset."
For Shenmue III specifically, the end credits of the game list their respective roles in the project as follows:
  • Christopher Willacy: Level Designer
  • Daniel Markiewicz: Level Designer
  • Cornelis E. (Kees) Gajentaan: Shader Artist
In view of them being in an extremely busy period, the plan is for the interview to be carried out by email.

This is an open call to the Shenmue fan community for interview question suggestions! Any topic will be considered, but obviously most focus will be given to their work on Shenmue III..

Leave your questions for consideration below, by February 26th.

What would you like to ask them about?

Question submissions are now closed. Thanks to everyone who submitted!

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Sunday, February 16, 2020

Ryo's Footwear Habits Revisited | Shenmue 3

One of the many small details in the first game in the Shenmue series is the way that Ryo always makes sure to slip off his shoes when entering his home or the Dojo (with the prologue scene being the one notable and deliberately-made exception), adding a layer of authenticity to the world.
Shenmue I: Ryo removes his footwear when inside the Hazuki residence.
In Shenmue II, however, unlike in the first game Ryo does not remove his footwear at any time, even on occasions where it would have seemingly been natural for him to do so.
One explanation for the absence of footwear removal in Shenmue II may have been due to budget constraints, as it would have required extra cut scenes, modeling and animations. With the release of Shenmue III, we have the opportunity to observe how similar occasions are handled in the latest sequel.

Ryo's Footwear Habits in Shenmue III

We'll look at how two locations that involve situations where Ryo might be expected to remove his shoes, both being in Bailu village with its traditional customs and way of life: Shenhua's house and the house of Elder Yeh.

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Friday, February 14, 2020

Happy Valentine's Day from Joy!

Happy Valentine's Day!
This art was distributed on a card to attendees of the premiere of Shenmue: The Movie in Japan in January 2001.

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Saturday, February 8, 2020

Baoding Balls | Guest Post by Hiki

Today's guest post is by Hiki, and introduces a traditional Chinese item for maintaining dexterity that features some familiar motifs.

Today I want to show something really interesting. I want to show you Baoding Balls or Healthy Balls.

My mother died in 2017, and these Healthy Balls was hers. Today I was looking at the balls and reading the instruction paper and I saw that this may have a connection with Shenmue. In my opinion, perhaps the Baoding Balls were the inspiration for Yu Suzuki to create the Dragon Mirror and Phoenix Mirror.


Synopsis of the Healthy Ball

Being a traditional product of Baoding City, the Healthy Ball is famous throughout China and all over the world.

The history of the Ball can be traced back as early as the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644 D), when it first came out. Solid at the beginning, it was used to build up physical strength and to limber up the joints, as well as a tool for self-defense. It remained solid till the Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1911 A D), when it was fashioned into a hollowed one with a soundboard inside. Since then, the Balls have been handed down from generation to generation.

They are also known as "Double Balls of Roaring Dragon and Singing Phoenix," for two balls are usually manipulated together, sounding different tones.

This is the part that I think has a connection to Shenmue, in my opinion. I think the Baoding Balls were the inspiration for Yu Suzuki to create the Dragon Mirror and the Phoenix Mirror.

I think that this is awesome. The Baoding Balls will be in my Shenmue Collection. I know this is not an item that appears in the games but I think it has a connection with Shenmue.

What do you guys think?

About the Author

Shenmue is my favorite videogame series of all time. Shenmue is so special for me and for many fans around the world, so I decided to create a YouTube channel called Shenmue コレクション (which translates as Shenmue Collection).

I plan to upload everything about Shenmue. I'm not trying to compete with other Shenmue channels, all I want is to create a beautiful collection of Shenmue videos to show my love for Shenmue and to help promote the series.

In this channel you will find Shenmue content of all kinds:, me playing the games, the soundtracks of the games, interviews with Yu Suzuki, me playing Shenmue songs on piano, me talking about Shenmue, me showing my Shenmue collection and much more.

In the word of Iwao Hazuki: "Your friends... Keep friends... Those you love... close to you..."

Thanks to Hiki for the post submission, and it's great to see another channel created in the Shenmue fan community featuring original content - we look forward to  performances of Shenmue pieces on the piano! Why not subscribe to Shenmue Collection on YouTube and keep an eye out for more.

Text originally shared on the Shenmue Dojo forums and submitted to this blog by the author.

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Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Yu Suzuki's 1994 China Research Trip Part 5: Days Two & Three | Translation

A continuation of our series on Yu Suzuki's 1994 Research Trip to China. This topic was selected by the Phantom River Stone blog patrons via our monthly poll on Patreon and was available for early access.

In the early 1990s, Yu Suzuki made a seminal trip to China. His objective was to research and gather material for his upcoming Virtua Fighter 2, and this research also influenced his concept for a "Virtua Fighter RPG" which eventually came to be known as Shenmue.

Previous posts in this series of blog posts:
  • In Part One, we translated blog entries about the trip by Kazunari Uchida, the person who accompanied Yu Suzuki.
  • Part Two is a magazine article in which Yu Suzuki gives own comments about his trip, and how his findings would be useful for the development of the Virtua Fighter series.
  • In Part Three, Yu's traveling companion, Kazunari Uchida, talks about how he first met Yu Suzuki and his curiosity to learn about the genius behind the man during the upcoming trip.
  • Part Four is Kazunari Uchida's journal entry for the start of the trip itself: Day One - Beijing.
In this post, Part Five, we continue on with Kazunari Uchida's journal entry for Days Two and Three.

Yu Suzuki: China Research Trip Journal

Recap of the Trip So Far

With Virtua Fighter, Yu Suzuki broke new ground for the fighting game genre. Aiming at further enhancements for Virtua Fighter II, Suzuki made a decision to travel to China, the center of martial arts, on a research mission. His travel companion was his longtime friend and someone experienced in reporting on remote regions: writer and cameraman Kazunari Uchida, In high spirits, the pair boarded a flight to the continent and energetically started their research.

Day Two: Gathering Textures in Beijing

We wanted to go to Shaolin Temple as soon as we could for our first encounter with authentic kung fu, but buses and trains still don't run frequently in China and arranging the tickets was taking time. Holding our impatience in check, during the time before our night train departed we decided to make a typical sight-seeing tour of Beijing, taking in the Imperial Palace of the Ming and Qing Dynasties, and the religious buildings at Temple of Heaven Park where prayers are held for a bountiful harvest, 

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Tuesday, January 28, 2020

A Chat With the Knock Motorcycle Shop Owner | Shenmue in Real Life

This topic was selected by Phantom River Stone members in our monthly poll and was available for early access. More info on our Patreon page.

Many of the places in the Shenmue series are modeled or based on actual places, and this is especially true for the first game which features locations that are very similar to ones that actually existed at the time the game was made. In recent years, SEGA has even worked with Yokosuka City to produce an official Shenmue Sacred Spot Guide Map that highlights several of these.

Alas, some of these that were around in the early 2000's are no longer here today, such as the large gantry crane at the harbor, dismantled in 2013, or the Jupiter jacket shop in Dobuita that no doubt inspired the in-game Jupitor's Jackets shop, which closed in 2015.

One of the most memorable shopfronts in the game is the Knocking Motorcycle Shop, with its large sign above proudly proclaiming"YOKOSUKA JAPAN", the show window crammed full of parts and several motorbikes scattered about outside in various states of repair.

In fact, the Knocking Motorcycle Shop was also based on a real-life bike shop called Knock Motor, which used to be located just off Dobuita Street. As you can see from this photo in a March 2000 edition of the Weekly AM2 online magazine, they are remarkably similar, right down to the design and lettering on the shop sign.
The real Knock motorcycle shop in Dobuita (March 2000).
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Friday, January 24, 2020

A Nod to Bass Fishing in the Battle Rally DLC

The arcadey action of the racing section of the new Shenmue III Battle Rally DLC contains some nice touches that hark back to Yu Suzuki's classic arcade games.

As mentioned in our Battle Rally DLC recap post, there are several graphical tributes to Yu Suzuki's 1986 arcade game Out Run. One of these is the Goal banner:

And another nod to a SEGA arcade game has been spotted. The game in question is Bass Fishing (also known as Get Bass), which had an arcade release in 1997/1998 and came with a built-in fishing rod controller.
SEGA's Bass Fishing arcade
The game was later ported to consoles including the Dreamcast.

Comparing the Bass Fishing logo side-by-side with the title on the Battle Rally main selection screen shows the strong similarity, from the color graduation effect to the slant and font design. (Credit to Nikolai Antonov for the discovery).

There may well be more such nods to SEGA's classic arcade games. Leave a comment if you have noticed any others!

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Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Shenmue III DLC Out Now: Battle Rally (with Bailu Chan Hunt)

The first playable DLC for Shenmue III, called "Battle Rally" has become available from today, and offers not one but two games set in Shenmue III's world.

One is Battle Rally, the an entertaining series of time-trial courses (mixed with fighting!) which gives the DLC its name. And the second is a separate treasure-hunt style game that will look somewhat familiar to Shenmue III players, called Bailu Chan Hunt!

Both of these activities are set in Bailu village, and the game will check that you have progressed past this location in your main game, before making it accessible. Also be sure your main game is up-to-date (at the time of this post, the latest version is currently v1.04.01).

Battle Rally

Battle Rally has a fun, arcade-like feel to it that will immediately remind players strongly of Yu Suzuki's past arcade titles. You can choose to play as one of three characters: Ryo Hazuki, Ren Wuying or Wei Zhen (the martial artist who can often been found practicing opposite the Sunflower grove in the main game).

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Sunday, January 19, 2020

Real-life Cliff Temple Location | Video by Shenmue Unofficial

A new video has been released on the Shenmue Unofficial YouTube channel that investigates and identifies a real-life location backed up by evidence that it may feature in an upcoming part of the Shenmue story.

The video includes a brief recap and discussion about the ending of Shenmue III, along with speculation regarding future chapters (although the information on which it is based was revealed by Yu Suzuki several years ago). If you have yet to complete Shenmue III then you may wish to do so first and come back to watch the video afterwards. 

As always with the Shenmue Unofficial videos, the analysis is thorough and after watching it I'm certainly convinced that the location has indeed been identified!

The video can be viewed below: 

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Thursday, January 16, 2020

"Battle Rally" DLC for Shenmue III Launching Jan 21st

New content has been announced for Shenmue 3! It comes in the form of DLC entitled Battle Rally, and it will be available on January 21 for PS4 and PC.

Image by Shenmue Forever
This represents the first DLC for the game since its launch at the end of last year, and will be available for purchase online on the Sony Store and Epic Games Store. If you have already purchased the Complete DLC Collection season pass (which also comes with the Digital Deluxe Edition of the game), then the new content will automatically become available to you on the launch day.

What is it About?

The Battle Rally DLC offers "fresh gaming activities" and takes the form of a race in which the objective is to beat your competition to be first across the line, with some "truly awesome items" to the winner [see Yu Suzuki's comment at the end of this article for more information on these]. On the way, contestants will "engage in head-to-head battles" as they race through the course.

The new DLC will also allow players to play a choice of characters for the first time in Shenmue III: choose from Ryo, Ren or Wei Zhen (the young martial artist from Bailu village who often trains at Sunflower Grove).

The planned price for the single DLC is reported to be $7.99 / £6.49 / €7.99 through the Sony Store (PS4) or Epic Game Store (PC). Or, if you are intending to purchase further DLC content in the future, then the season pass will be more economic.

PC players can take advantage of the 30% off deal for Shenmue III that is currently running on the Epic Games Store, which also applies to the DLC season pass. The sale runs until January 28th.
Tap mage to visit the Shenmue III page on the Epic Games Store

Additional Shenmue III DLC

In an interview with IGN Japan (source, in Japanese) near the end of last year, Yu Suzuki talked a little about the DLC for Shenmue III that the team was working on:
"Following the game's release, DLC is scheduled to be distributed periodically. They are currently working on 3 or so: one is action-based, one is story-related and one is to do with a casino. Furthermore, as a reward for completing the DLC, some will allow you to obtain additional costumes, with plans for costumes for characters other than Ryo."
There is a good chance that one of the prizes will be an alternative costume for Shenhua, given the hint Yu dropped during our interview with him at last year's Tokyo Game Show:
PRS: We've heard that Ryo will be able to change his costume. How about Shenhua?

YS: Yes she will, but not in the main game. I wonder if I can say more. It's DL... something! [laughs]
Regarding the two DLC other than Battle Royal, the names have already been leaked via the PlayStation trophies list, and although they do not in themselves give much away, I will enclose them here in spoiler tags:

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Saturday, January 11, 2020

Yu Suzuki's Research Trip to China Part 4: Day One (Beijing) | Translation

A continuation of our series on Yu Suzuki's Research Trip to China. This topic was selected by the Phantom River Stone blog patrons via our monthly poll on Patreon and was available for early access.

In the early 1990s, Yu Suzuki made a seminal trip to China. His objective was to research and gather material for his upcoming Virtua Fighter 2, and this research also influenced his concept for a "Virtua Fighter RPG" which eventually came to be known as Shenmue.

Previous posts in this series of blog posts:
  • In Part One, we translated blog entries about the trip by Kazunari Uchida, the person who accompanied Yu Suzuki.
  • Part Two is a magazine article in which Yu Suzuki gives own comments about his trip, and how his findings would be useful for the development of the Virtua Fighter series.
  • In Part Three, Yu's traveling companion, Kazunari Uchida, talks about how he first met Yu Suzuki and his curiosity to learn about the genius behind the man during the upcoming trip.
In this post, Part Four, we present Kazunari Uchida's journal entry for the start of the trip itself: Day One - Beijing.

Yu Suzuki: China Research Trip Journal

Day One: Beijing

Our Air China jumbo jet departed Narita [the main international airport near Tokyo] at 3 pm and arrived at Beijing Airport slightly behind schedule at 7 pm local time (one hour behind Japan). One might perhaps call it the scent of the continent: on disembarking, we were wrapped in a distinctive odor, like the dry smell of a summer beach mixed with the faint smell of car oil burning.

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Thursday, January 9, 2020

Poll Result: Patrons' Choice Topic for January 2020

Every month Phantom River Stone holds a poll among our patrons to choose a topic for the blog in the coming month. After tallying the votes (including accumulated votes from previous months), the clear winning topic for January is...

"Yu Suzuki's Research Trip to China 1994: Part Five"

In 1994 Yu Suzuki spent two weeks in China gathering material for his upcoming Virtua Fighter II game, and his findings also greatly influenced his creation of Shenmue.
  • In Part One, we translated blog posts about the trip by Kazunari Uchida, the person who accompanied Yu Suzuki.
  • In Part Two, we translated Yu Suzuki's own comments about his trip, and how his findings would be useful for the development of the Virtua Fighter series.
  • Part Three was the first of a number of "diary" style articles documenting the China trip, again written by Kazunari Uchida, which were published in 1994 as a series in the Japanese Beep! MegaDrive Magazine.
  • Part Four is the journal entry for Day One: Beijing (coming soon).
In Part Five, we will translate the journal entry for Yu Suzuki's journey through China from Beijing down to Shaolin Temple in Henan province. (He takes particular interest in a carving of a Dragon and Phoenix that he discovers on the way...)

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Tuesday, January 7, 2020

2020 Season's Greetings Illustrations from Yu Suzuki & Team

Yu Suzuki and the Shenmue III team have sent out some whimsical Shenmue-themed seasonal greeting illustrations over the past few weeks, celebrating the end of a year in which the historic release of Shenmue III took place, and welcoming in the year ahead.

Season's Greetings Illustration

The first illustration shows Shenhua, Ryo and Ren playing in the snow. Shenhua holds a gift-wrapped box marked "Shenmue III", out of which pops a jack-in-the-box puppet of Yu Suzuki - a Yu-in-the box. Ryo, like Shenhua, is dressed in a red-and-white Santa suit, and in place of his backpack he carries a white sack over his shoulder and winces as a well-aimed snowball from Ren catches him on the head (as to be expected, Ren hasn't changed costume for the festive season). Completing the featured cast are Chai at the left, who is up to no good as he prepares a huge snowball - but he has made the effort to dress up in a Santa hat and coat!

Lastly, at the far right is Chobu-chan as a snowman. I wonder if that was Ren's handiwork...

Season's Greetings from the Shenmue III team! (source Tweet)
Illustration detail: Chai rolling a snowball, a strike on Ryo, "Yu-in-the-box", and a Chobu-chan snowman.

New Year's Greeting

The second illustration is a greeting for the New Year, and was sent out on Twitter with the following message:
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Sunday, January 5, 2020

TVGS Interview with Voice Actor Eric Kelso

Recently James from the YouTube channel That Video Games Show interviewed Japan-based voice actor Eric Kelso, who has a wealth of voice-over and voice acting experience in a variety of fields, and of course played the English voices of Fuku-san, Guizhang and Ren in the first two Shenmue games.

The questions cover Eric's activities in Japan as well as several Shenmue-related topics, including:

  • Which of the 3 Shenmue characters you voiced did you have the most fun with?
  • What is your favorite dish to cook?
  • Were you contacted about returning to play as Ren in Shenmue III?
  • Would you be open to re-recording your own original voices for the Shenmue III characters?
  • What made you decide to move to Japan?
  • Can you play any musical instruments?
  • What is your favorite "Ericism"?
  • Have you ever played Shenmue I and II?
Eric has always positive supported Shenmue and the fan community, and it is a pleasure to hear from him again in this interview.

Further information on topics mentioned:

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Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Yu Suzuki's Plans for 2020: "A New Project Start" []

Japanese website has published their traditional annual survey of members of the games industry, this time interviewing a total of 110 game creators. They were asked to choose a word that sums up their direction for the coming year, as well as their New Year's Resolution and goal for the coming year.

Here are the answers Yu Suzuki provided for the coming year:
Q: What is your keyword for 2020?
YS: "A new project start".
Q: What is your New Year's Resolution?
YS: To leverage my know-how from Shenmue III and focus on planning a world with even more freedom.

Q: What will you be keeping an eye on in 2020?
YS: Of course that would be the Olympics. Please try out Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. Something else that captures my interest is Mulan.
In the last response, Suzuki (who still has a consulting role with Sega) gives a shout-out to Sega's Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, which was recently released for the Nintendo Switch and for which there are plans to release as an arcade cabinet this year. Mulan is an upcoming historical period drama set in China which is a live-action adaptation of Disney's 1998 animated film of the same name.

Of most interest to Shenmue fans is Yu Suzuki's revelation that he is commencing a new project, and in his second answer he mentions planning out a "world with even more freedom" than Shenmue III.

Could this new project be Shenmue IV? Continuing on to make the next Shenmue game in the series is something Suzuki has previously indicated he would like to do (for example in this Museo Dreamcast interview), and furthermore it would make sense do so while the current development team is in place. At the same time, Suzuki no doubt also has ideas and concepts for other projects, so no doubt the eyes of all fans will be watching closely for further information.

Related Links

These are Yu Suzuki's end-of-year interviews from the past three years:
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